Despite shifts on Cuba and Venezuela, the Obama administration’s appointment of a man who’s been involved in the overthrow of leftist governments since the 1980s, to head the White House’s top agency on Latin American affairs shows little may have really changed.
Mark Feierstein, former associate administrator for USAID and Washinton’s new point man on Latin America, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Feierstein’s legacy of covert regime change has many Latin American leaders questioning Washington’s intents.
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration announced in December that it would immediately re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, a policy shift that ended 54 years of isolation. In another move that was diametrically opposed to this policy shift, it then imposed economic sanctions on Venezuela in March.
Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy, argues that Obama realized his administration made a mistake implementing the sanctions, and so attempted to back-pedal by stating: “We do not believe that Venezuela poses a threat to the United States, nor does the United States threaten the Venezuelan government.”
Weisbrot added: “And then he did something that no U.S. president has done since 1999, when Hugo Chávez was president-elect of Venezuela: he met with Venezuela’s head of state. This was arguably as important for hemispheric relations as his meeting with Raúl Castro.”
But with the appointment of Feierstein, Weisbrot told MintPress News that he believes U.S. policy toward Latin America may not have changed at all.
“Feierstein’s been involved in campaigns against left governments since the U.S.-backed war against the Sandinistas in the 1980s,” Weisbrot told MintPress, adding that he can’t understand why nobody has reported on Feierstein’s appointment yet.
Indeed, a quick review of Feierstein’s track record in Latin America reveals that the new senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council has played an integral role in facilitating destabilization of South American countries since the 1980s.
Feierstein will replace Ricardo Zúñiga, who negotiated the Cuba deal, along with deputy national security adviser Benjamin J. Rhodes.
Massacre in Bolivia
In 2010, Feierstein was appointed assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). This caused considerable friction between Bolivia and the U.S. because Feierstein acted as a campaign consultant to former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (1993-1997; 2002-2003). Sánchez de Lozada, who is also known as “Goni,” is infamous in Bolivia because 64 people were allegedly killed under his orders for opposing the liberalization of the country’s gas resources during the notorious “Black October” incident. He currently faces charges of genocide in Bolivia, but has fled to the United States.
In 2006, Feierstein expressed no regret to getting Sánchez de Lozada elected. He said: “You know, we are proud of the role that we played in electing Goni.”
Coup in Paraguay
Feierstein was assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at USAID in 2012, when the country’s opposition legislature executed a coup d’etat against leftist President Fernando Lugo, allegedly for mishandling the violent eviction of peasant farmers in the Curuguaty region.
However, Weisbrot explained in a piece for The Guardian at the time that the legislature had different motives:
“The politics of the situation are clear enough. Paraguay was controlled for 61 years by the rightwing Colorado party. For most of this time (1947-1989), the country was ruled by dictatorship. President Lugo, a former Catholic bishop from the tradition of liberation theology who had fought for the rights of the poor, was elected in 2008, but did not win majority backing in the Congress. He put together a coalition government, but the right – including the media – has never really accepted his presidency.”
USAID had increased funding to its programs in Paraguay following Lugo’s election. According to Natalia Viana, an investigative reporter for The Nation, this “was to prevent his [Lugo’s] policies from becoming too leftist—and to prevent his administration from becoming too close to Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador or Cuba.” She also reported that, “funding was channeled to some of the very institutions that would play a central role in impeaching Lugo six years later, including not just the police force but the Public Ministry and the Supreme Court.”
According to Viana, USAID anticipated the opposition’s ulterior motives early on and cozied up to them. Feierstein is recorded as saying that the country’s supreme court, which refused Lugo’s appeal, was “efficient and effective for the Paraguayan people.” He described it as “an example for other countries.”
Funding the Contras in Nicaragua
U.S. backed Nicaraguan rebel leader stands with guerrilla fighters with in their camp in southern Nicaragua, 1983. The rebel, trained, armed and funded by the CIA, formerd to overthrow the Nicaraguan Sandinista government.
Perhaps what Feierstein is most famous for, however, is his role as a project manager for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Nicaragua, where it played an instrumental role in ousting the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), also known as the Sandinistas, in the 1980s and 90s.
The FSLN is a socialist political party and revolutionary group that implemented a broad range of social reforms across Nicaragua after taking power in 1979, including a literacy campaign, health care, and the promotion of gender equality.
After being elected in 1980, President Ronald Reagan was ideologically opposed to the leftist ideology of the Sandinistas, which allied with Cuba and the Soviet Union, and determined to overthrow the government. He authorized the CIA to finance, train, and arm rebel forces in Nicaragua, some of whom were allied with the former Somoza regime, to fight the FSLN. The ensuing war lasted until the early 1990s.
Due to popular American opposition against Reagan’s policies toward Nicaragua, Congress cut funds to the rebels, who were called “Contras,” in 1985. The White House continued to support the Contras through the now infamous Iran-Contra deal, which saw the National Security Council, along with other government agencies like the CIA, sell arms to Iran to fund the Contras in Nicaragua.
The NED was integral in U.S. efforts to destabilize the elected government.
Feierstein explained his rationale for the U.S. role in attempting to overthrow the Sandinistas in a 1991 book review of Thomas Carothers’s book “In the Name of Democracy: U.S. Policy Toward Latin America in the Reagan Years.” He wrote: “To prevent Marxism from spreading in Central America – that is, to contain the Sandinistas and thwart Leftist victories elsewhere – required supporting the military, a primary obstacle to democracy in Latin America.”
The Contras have since been accused of numerous human rights violations. It is estimated that up to 50,000 people were killed.
Speaking with MintPress, Weisbrot speculated that Obama may have appointed Feierstein because he cares very little about U.S. policy toward Latin America. He explained that the Cuba deal has more to do with Obama’s legacy than it does with any real tangible policy shifts.
“So the Cuba move is a legacy thing – he wants to be the president who opened up Cuba,” he argued.
He concluded: “It’s a nice legacy to have because it’s something most of the U.S. foreign policy establishment has wanted since the 90s, and even before.”